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Coronavirus and Tango Elegante classes

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and the indeterminate nature of when ‘lock downs’ may fully end, we are foregoing the Autumn Season and as we come to the Winter season we have no immediate prospect of being able to hold classes yet.

Under UK current lock-down rules (as of November/December) it seems that the best I could offer is to meet two couple somewhere outdoors while still remaining at a social distance, as long as each couple was part of a household/bubble. For single tango dancers there currently seems to be little opportunity to dance with a partner.

Not really a feasible system yet, especially since we are moving into the Winter colds/flu season, which means there are plenty of other bugs out there to try dodge, and we maybe faced with a lot of false alarms, each requiring a suspension of class while we all test and isolate, before we can reconvene.

The UK Government seems to be targeting local lock-downs again after the national lock-down finishes, with the idea of limiting restrictions to only those places in the country needing them, but already, after the second full national lock-down, the spread of the Covid virus seem to be levelling off but too high in most parts of England for restrictions to be eased enough for face-to-face partner dancing.

It may be the case that the tango community may never be able to get back to real live face-to-face tango until either everyone has faced the challenge of the illness and has developed immunity, or one or more of the current  potential vaccines has been shown to have no medium to long term side effects and has been rolled out.

For now you can continue to review the proposed future schedule by looking at our events page. (Hint:- there currently isn’t one for the remainder of 2020. I was considering doing a few weeks up to Christmas but when the UK Government announced a national lock-down followed by harsher local lock-downs, I put my plans on hold – again).

In the meantime, with very little opportunity to dance at class or milonga venues, we can at least all improve our musicality by listening to lots more tango, vals, and milonga tunes. Those of you out there who can already tango to some level might also like to explore the subject of ‘visualisation’ which is a technique of imagining yourself performing a task perfectly. Apparently practising with visualisation (even if you don’t have a partner) is about 70% as effective as physically practising… hmm…

You may be aware that I am writing a series of articles (with examples) on the structure of tango music and possible interpretation. I published a few weeks ago, and I’m working on more hopefully to come out soon, so you may wish to study them while waiting for the tango world to start turning again.

All tango articles can be found by following the menu link at the top of the page.

If you have the space and a decent floor, you may also want to avail yourself of the many online classes and dance ‘events’ which are popping up on the web. It’s not quite the same as ‘in person’, and ideally to gain the maximum benefit you will need a partner, but it maybe enough to keep your tango going to some level or another. The tango community has to try stick together as much as possible until this crisis is over so a big thanks to all those teachers who have managed to move their activities online to keep the community alive.

This is definitely one situation where ‘if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it’, so try practise as much as you can, even if solo.

Please follow the Government advice and stay safe.

I look forward to seeing you soon(?).

Steve


Lounge Tango – Tango Salon

broken tv and red dance shoes

Christine and I have been lucky enough to continue dancing tango during lock-down, albeit in a much smaller space, so I thought I’d write this post relating our experience of ‘lounge tango’ (or tango salon), just to show that with a partner, there is tango life after milonga.

What is lounge tango?

Well for us it was modifying and getting used to dancing tango in a space no bigger than 2m x 2.5 m, which doesn’t sound a lot but is enough for many things. In saying that there are of course advantages and disadvantages, with a need to modify a few things.

Advantages vs Disadvantages of Lounge tango

  1. With a partner on tap, there was no sitting out waiting to dance.
    This is an advantage, of course. Those of you who’ve been unfortunate to be in lock-down without a dance partner will know that technique, styling and conditioning exercises can only get you so far.  With a real live partner you can both try swapping roles for a bit of fun. Even without swapping roles, you can learn and discuss how to perform new material until you get it right. However if you have an argument about something, anything, you don’t get any tango for a while until you make up. You learn to be nice to your tango partner, which is always a good thing 🙂 .
  2. We had to learn a different type of floor craft.
    Normally floor craft is mostly about not damaging yourself, your partner, other dancers or people sitting out at a milonga, and being courteous to others. With loung tango it becomes all about not destroying your possessions (stiletto through the TV screen etc.) 🙂 . Other than that it is very similar in that the leader needs to be very aware of the space available (as does the follower) and probably needs to make more use of pivoting to be able to lead the follower out of the tight corner he’s boxed them into. If we ever get back to ‘normal’ milongas this will be a very useful skill.
  3. We’ve had to more or less give up ‘the tango walk’.
    Tango walking can almost be a dance in itself with marvellous rhythmical walking patterns to make moving around a dance hall a bit more interesting between tango figures. In a very small space you do maybe two or three steps in a line then have to break it to get around a corner, so not much chance to get a walking rhythm going. This also means that our tango has become more ‘figure’ centric and a lot more circular, with more rebote to bounce us back to the centre of the dance space.
  4. We’ve had to learn how to make linear tango figures circular
    In a normal milonga space there are certain tango figures which are linear and can cover a lot of space. In our lounge we have either had to forego them, or find ways of cutting them short, or making the linear figure a bit more circular. This will be an advantage if we ever get back to crowded busy milongas, but at the same time we miss having a bit of runway to unleash our linear figures onto. Oh well… 🙂
  5. The leader can now step back more often
    This is both a blessing and potentially a future curse. Blessing because now I can make full use of the small space and be able to apply my damage limitation floor craft by stepping back a couple of times or more. Potential curse because I may get used to the habit, and do it at my first proper milonga in some months time, to the probable consternation of the couple behind. Hmmm…

Carpet vs lino vs wood floor

We started lock down dancing on a fairly old carpet. Thin enough and hard wearing it was OK so long as I didn’t wear my tango shoes and used some modified indoor shoes with smooth leather soles. The disadvantage was in pivoting – more resistance, so it meant we had to use pivoting technique more often or risk twisted knees and ankles (which thankfully we never experienced). However in some ways this was an advantage too because it made us use our core muscles more, which improved our conditioning. What was do-able with a little effort on a carpet, became very easy on a nice smooth wooden dance floor.

Recently, after doing every other DIY project I could think of, I finally ran out of excuses not to lay a new floor in the lounge. Its only wood effect click-board, but the surface is a lot smoother than the carpet, so now pivoting is nice and straight-forward. Will we start loosing our core strength though?

As for lino, it is better than carpet, but perhaps less good as wooden floor. Most lino tile or sheet is design with a none slip surface, when first laid. If tiles have worn smooth a little that would be better, and if it’s all you have, it’s adequate for home tango.

How your tango changes in a reduced space environment

So to review, yes your tango will change dancing at home, but sometimes in a good way and you may have to learn to be more precise in your floor craft which will stand you in good stead. Your range of ability to use figures in tight spaces, relying on extra rotation in pivots to get you out of tight spaces will should also improve too.

If you are lucky enough to live in a mansion with a large space, none of this matters to you but in any case while we are still in lock down, even if you are not learning much new, I would recommend trying to make what you already know, as precise and elegant, while improving technique as much as possible.

So keep practising, but try not to smash that nice Ming vase stood in the corner, with a wild voleo… 🙂


Your body changes? Your tango changes! But not for long

Recently my partner and I went on holiday to Austria, had a great time of course, but as is often the case, we picked up a virus on the way back. My partner had tummy problems the day before we flew back and by the time I was sat in the car at Stansted Airport the next day, ready to drive home, I wasn’t feeling too great either.

To cut a story short we both lost a Kg or so. Possibly walking in the Austrian mountains helped (but not the marvelous food 🙂 ), and also the careful eating and… ahem… other factors shall we say, after coming back.

So we were practicing at the weekend and my partner said ‘Something’s changed about your lead’. ‘Good change or bad change?’ I asked. ‘Not sure, but it could be good in the long run because I’m having to work harder with my core. You’re not driving me with your stomach like before’. Hmmm, well we finally figured it was because we’d both lost a bit of stomach volume because of our walking exercise/illness.

None of this was deliberate – neither of us had set out to lose weight, but of course it does make sense that elements such as your centre of gravity may shift slightly, your weight will have changed (obviously) and so leaders may have to work a little harder to drive their familiar dance partners around the floor, and as my partner found, followers who have been relying a little bit on their partners, may have to work a little harder.

What this means is that if you’re planning to lose weight (perhaps to get beach fit, or as a New Year resolution, or because of medical advice) your tango will have to be modified slightly and you may have to work a bit harder until you get used to the new you.

It shouldn’t be too big a deal but it’s worth being aware of it, just in case your tango seems a little more hard work. Keep practicing your tango and working with the new you, and your tango will be back  to it’s normal level in a short time. 🙂

 

 

Learning tango in the group dance class environment

On our Frequently Asked Questions page, often we get asked ‘Does it take long to learn Argentine Tango?’ or ‘How long does it take to learn Argentine Tango?’. As stated there, this is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string.

It depends on so many different things such as how often you go to class, how you apply yourself, how good your teacher is, how good the other people you practice with are, what you’re overall goal is and so on. It is a question which is therefore difficult to answer simply.

Many tango schools label people as beginners, improvers, intermediates etc. based on calendar duration of dancing tango rather than capability. In my humble opinion all tango dancers (including myself) who are not raw beginners are improvers, because…

The act of improving your dance technique never stops.

I still attend advanced Argentine tango classes and practice a few hours every week. Even World Champions still take lessons… We all become simultaneously, beginners, improvers and experts in some aspect of the dance, as shown in the graphic.

We are all moving from the ‘no experience’ box via ‘some skills’ and ‘much skills’ to ‘advanced skills’ boxes with at least one aspect of our dance, pretty much all the time. You don’t become expert in all things instantaneously overnight, but you evolve to become a better tango dancer each day you practice…

In recognition of this continual learning cycle, at Tango Elegante we run our tango dance classes and courses to start off fairly easy for those of us in the ‘no experience’ box, and help people to move up the competence chain, and with a little bit of practice to eventually nudge attendees into the ‘much skills’ box.

It is important to remember that most people don’t ‘get it’ on the first run through of new material, new technique, or trying to improve musicality. Or some people ‘get it’ in an intellectual way (i.e. they understand what’s required) but they still can’t perform it well without a lot of practice.

So when you go to any class and learn new material, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get it quickly, and certainly ignore anyone around you who is showing impatience because you don’t get it quick enough to suit them.

Just think about what you need to practice to improve that element of your dance, find a patient enough person to practice with, and keep practicing.

Milongas (social dances)

OK, yes it is confusing using the word ‘milonga’ 🙂 Are we talking about a tune, or a dance style? Well, no we’re talking about a type of social dance for Argentine tango dancers. In fact you can dance a milonga (style) to a milonga (tune) at a milonga (social dance). How did this all come about?

Well the milonga style predates tango salon, so when people in Argentina went social dancing they mostly danced whatever the style of the day was – milonga (and possibly candombe which is another compact style predating milonga), to whatever the music of the times was – brisk tango and quick step.

Most likely people just said they were ‘going to milonga’ meaning going to a dance. In later years we have tango salon evolving out of the milonga style and tango vals evolving out of tango salon so we now have three styles that can be danced at a milonga (social dance), with each having their own style of music.

Rules of the Dance Hall (or codigos)

An event organiser is entitled to organise his/her event in any way they like and so some milongas tend to be laid back, not many rules on the dance floor or in how people should ask each other to dance. Some events only play traditional music, some only play modern music, some play a mix.

So each event has it’s own set of rules from the strict

  • no jeans allowed, couples are seated together at the ends of the hall, single men on the left of the hall, single women on the right of the hall, and only cabeco/mirada can be used to invite or refuse a dance, strict line of dance clockwise around the dance floor, no overtaking etc.

to the relaxed

  • dress how you like, sit where you like, ask people to dance how you like, no line of dance just a ‘Brownian Motion’ like, vaguely clockwise movement around the hall using whatever space is available etc.

or anywhere in between. If there are any ‘red line’ rules that must not be breached, these are usually displayed at the entrance to the milonga (but sometimes not – you maybe expected to find out for yourselves). If you break them you may be asked to leave!

You find that event organisers use these types of rules to differentiate themselves from other social dances. For example in Buenos Aires there are many social dances going on pretty much every night of the week in different districts and so the tango going public has plenty of choice.

So one milonga will run a strict dress code to attract people who want to dress up. Another milonga might be family friendly, starting early so families can bring their kids, eat, dance a little, and when families start leaving the late night crowd starts arriving. Another milonga might be a ‘nuevo’ milonga playing only modern tango tunes, with a relaxed dress code. Of course the music being played is a big component of choosing a venue, with plenty of orchestras and periods to chose from. It means there is usually something for everyone.

In London and the UK it’s pretty much the same with traditional vs nuevo music, strict line of dance vs no line of dance, and with some venues requiring cabaceo to be used (but many or most not). The trick for the new milonga goer is to visit a few places and see what they’re like, find the ones you feel comfortable in, and you can then stick to those if that’s what you want to do.

Our milongas are fairly irregular but we do try put on a social dance every now and then. Our only ‘codigos’ are to be respectful of your partner and the dancers around you, and stay on the line of dance. We don’t do dress codes (unless we advertise a party theme) and we don’t worry too much how people get themselves a dance as long as people join the dance floor in a respectful way 🙂

Check out our event page to see if we have a social milonga coming up.